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May 30, 2016 / 22 Iyar, 5776

Posts Tagged ‘Reform’

YCT, Heterodoxy, and Agudah

Wednesday, October 2nd, 2013

Agudath Israel has come out with a new statement about Yeshivat Chovevei Torah (YCT). They are ‘deeply troubled’ that YCT is hosting a group of 4 non-Orthodox rabbis at the installation of their new president, Rabbi Asher Lopatin. They will be involved in a roundtable discussion entitled “Training New Rabbis for a New Generation”.

I have mixed emotions about this. But I am in fact pleased that Agudah has responded to it – even if in a negative way. This shows that they must recognize YCT as an Orthodox institution. Which it is, in my view. I don’t for example believe they would be criticizing the Conservative Movement if they invited Reform rabbis to a roundtable of their own.

My feelings about this issue are mixed for the following reasons.

On the one hand – there is the rather well known decision by the Gedolei HaDor of the previous generation to forbid any interaction with non Orthodox movements. The fear was that by doing so, it would tacitly imply recognizing their legitimacy. Orthodoxy rejects heterodox movements and considers them illegitimate.

It is also rather well known that Rav Joseph B. Soloveitchik made a distinction between interacting with them on any theological matters – which he also forbade; and interacting with them on non theological matters that impacted on the welfare of all of Jewry – which he permitted.

I agree with Rav Soloveitchik’s perspective. The question is whether this round table falls into the category of theological discussion or not. I’m not sure – but if I had to peg it, I would lean toward putting such a roundtable on the theological side of the argument and thus forbid it.

That said, I wonder if that would be true if matters of actual theology were expressly left out of the discussion. And the round table was limited to a discussion of practical non-theological rabbinics. Like psychological counseling or how to go about giving advice to congregants. The truth is that heterodox rabbis probably have a lot to offer in the realm of practical non theological rabbinics. As would say a mental health professional or even a priest or minister for that matter.

On the other hand, since this is a Yeshiva hosting heterodox rabbis I would be hard pressed to say that there would be no theological aspect to it. It is a virtual impossibility to completely leave out theology in such a discussion. Which is why I would be opposed to it.

There is, however, another thing to consider. What is extant today was not extant when the Gedolei HaDor forbade such interactions. Times have changed in ways which make me wonder if we should re-examine our positions. Let me hasten to add that I do not advocate the policies of Open Orthodoxy that YCT represents. They have rejected the prohibition of interacting with non-Orthodox rabbis and now freely advocate full engagement with them at all levels – including theological ones.

But I think it is fair to evaluate the reasons they have done it. Times have indeed changed. When the prohibition was made, it was a time that Reform and Conservative movements were on the ascendancy. They were a real threat to Orthodox Judaism. Orthodoxy in America was in relative infancy then. To wit – Rav Aharon Kotler who was the driving force behind the prohibition headed a Yeshiva of about 300 students when he died. Today there are over 6000 students there and they are growing exponentially. There are also now many smaller Yeshivos like Lakewood that are now thriving. They did not exist at that time.

There is no question that the small group of Orthodox Jews at the time were seen by most non Orthodox observers as a dying relic of an ancient past. While Heterodox movements were flourishing and growing by leaps and bounds. It is very understandable that the Gedolei HaDor did not want to give any semblance of recognition to them. Their ‘David’ was fighting a very large Goliath.

But today – the tables have turned. We are the ones growing. They are either shrinking (Conservative) or redefining Jewishness to include non Halachic Jews (Reform).

It is therefore a fact that heterodoxy is no longer the threat to Orthodoxy it once was – if at all. It is now apathy and indifference that is the enemy. Jews are leaving Judaism in droves. They do not see any denomination as relevant to their lives. They see themselves as secular human beings in the brotherhood of man – without the slightest connection to Judaism. One might even say that Conservative and even Reform Judaism today is at least trying to get them to retain their Jewish identity if nothing else.

In the light of all this, perhaps this is a Hora’as Shah – time to act and change the paradigm. Maybe YCT is not so terribly wrong headed in partnering up with these movements. I do not see legitimizing them as a danger anymore. The danger is in the growing numbers of unaffiliated Jews who have no problem with intermarriage and tend to buy into the ‘Apartheid’ narrative about Israel found in the secular liberal/leftist environment in which they live.

This is not to say that I agree with YCT. I don’t. I am not qualified to make judgments about Hora’as Shah. I am just thinking out loud. For example one might argue that giving them legitimacy in any setting, no less a Yeshiva, is forbidden in principal – having nothing to do with whether doing so is some sort of existential danger to Orthodoxy. I can just as easily see this argument as I can YCT’s argument.

Perhaps the fact that there is another aspect to this now that did not exist before is why Agudah has not thrown YCT out of Orthodoxy – as publications like the Yated have advocated. They must realize that they are Orthodox in that they follow Halacha… and that their intentions with respect to heterodoxy are good – even if badly mistaken for the reasons stated. And for that, I applaud them.

Visit Emes Ve-Emunah .

Harry Maryles

Did Iran and Russia Just Save Israel?

Friday, September 13th, 2013

It would be ironic if true, but it may very well be that Iran and Russia (and Syria) just saved Israel (or God did, using them as proxies).

Obama stated on Thursday that he’s going to be pivoting his focus away from the international arena and instead concentrate on domestic issues and politics (God help America).

After having been burnt in Syria, and completely played by Russia and Iran, it’s as close to an admission of policy failure and incompetence as you can possibly get.

On the downside, it means the U.S. military may not be dealing with Iran if it tries to cross the nuclear red line, but based on what we’ve heard during the Syrian debacle, it seems unlikely they were going to do so in the first place.

A number of respected U.S. military commentators were saying outright that the U.S. could not financially afford a full-scale war with Syria. The U.S. would need to be prepared for escalation into a full-scale war, if they were going to undertake even a limited military strike.

So, if the U.S. wasn’t prepared or capable of running a small or full scale operation/war in third world Syria, how can anyone reasonably have expected that they would be in a position to do so in Iran?

The message here for Israel, is that Israel is going to have to turn directly to their true source of power for this one.

On the upside, if Obama feels burned by Syria, the Arab Spring, Egypt, Russia, and everything else International, then maybe, just maybe, he’ll leave Israel alone too.

Maybe this is the end of Obama trying to embed Hamas into Judea and Samaria, and trying to divide Jerusalem, trying to kick out Jews out of our homes, and trying to promote this latest “peace process”.

One can hope.

G’mar Chatima Tova

JoeSettler

White House Briefs Reform and Conservative Rabbis on Syria

Thursday, September 12th, 2013

Nearly 700 rabbis and other Jewish communal officials were briefed by a top White House aide on President Obama’s Syria plans.

The call Tuesday with Ben Rhodes, a deputy national security adviser, was organized by the Reform movement’s Religious Action Center and the Conservative movement’s Rabbinical Assembly and attracted 691 callers from all religious streams, according to Rabbi Julie Schonfeld, the RA’s executive vice president.

She said that rabbis were eager to be briefed on Syria so they could better discuss the issue in their Yom Kippur sermons.

Rabbis on the call pressed Rhodes on the moral underpinnings of striking Syria, distinctions between responses to the use of conventional weapons on civilians as opposed to chemical weapons, what the administration’s endgame in Syria was, and on how its Syria considerations affected its relationship with Israel.

JTA

Did She or Didn’t She?

Friday, August 16th, 2013

Over the past two days, while the army was shooting into the crowds in Egypt and half of Beirut was lifted by a huge car bomb, and many other awful things were happening, The Jewish Press readership has been dealing with mostly the question of the possibility that a Reform Rabbi named Angela Buchdahl could have attained her high position without the benefit of a Jewish conversion.

It started with an article in The Forward (Angela Buchdahl, First Asian-American Rabbi, Vies for Role at Central Synagogue), that basically suggested Buchdahl was not Jewish according to Jewish law:

But she also engaged Judaism at a time when the Reform movement itself was undergoing dramatic change. Eleven years after Buchdahl’s birth, in a move still hotly debated in all streams of Judaism, including within Reform Judaism itself, the Reform movement overturned more than 2,000 years of tradition that recognized only those whose mother was Jewish as Jews from birth. Others, including those with just a Jewish father, were required to undergo a process of conversion, though this process varied among Judaism’s different streams.

Starting in 1983, as intermarriage advanced steadily among its members, Reform Judaism conferred a “presumption of Jewish descent” on those with one Jewish parent, whether it was a father or a mother. The one condition to this recognition was that it be established “through appropriate and timely public and formal acts of identification with the Jewish faith,” according to the Central Conference of American Rabbis.

In many ways, Buchdahl represents the flowering of this revolution in Judaism, and symbolizes a kind of coming of age of its children.

This was coupled with an article in Hadassah Magazine:

Profile: Angela Buchdahl

Though Buchdahl’s mother did not convert, she wanted her children to find a home in the Jewish community. Her father instilled Jewish pride in his children and gave them a Jewish vocabulary, says Buchdahl, but it was her mother who imparted a sense of spiritual yearning and wonder. Her mother’s Buddhism informs her Judaism, she says, noting that Jewish and Korean cultures overlap in their approach to life, their emphasis on giving back and their drive to succeed and to be educated.

So yours truly, enchanted by the concept of the non-Jewish Rabbi, charged ahead. I still believe all the points I was making were right, namely that the Reform  doctrine of patrilineal descent and the “presumption of Judaism” in the case of a the offspring of a non-Jewish woman married to a Jew were on the money.

Except that it turns out Buchdahl may have converted to Judaism after all.

Thanks, first, to our reader Vicky Glikin of Deerfield, Illinois, who wrote:

It is highly unfortunate that your facts and the very premise for this article are plain wrong. Rabbi/Cantor Buchdahl underwent an Orthodox conversion, a fact that you would have easily discovered had you actually been trying to write an intelligent work of journalism.

So I went looking for the misrepresented conversion, and found the following line in the Times (Defining Judaism, a Rabbi of Many Firsts), hidden among long, familiar paragraphs like this one:

Her first reaction was to think about a formal conversion to Judaism, but a second impulse quickly followed: Why should she convert to prove something, when she had been a Jew her entire life? In traditional Jewish law, a Jew is defined through the mother’s line. But over roughly the last 40 years, the Reform movement in Judaism accepted descent through the father’s line as legitimate for Jewish identification, so if a child has a Jewish father and a non-Jewish mother who affiliates as a Jew (the mother need not convert if she is involved in synagogue life), the child does not need to undergo a conversion to become a Jew.

But then, the Times revealed: “Eventually, at 21, she did undergo a conversion ceremony, but she prefers to think of it as a reaffirmation ceremony.”

Another clue was in something David Ellenson, President of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, wrote in his letter today (Hebrew Union Pres. Pulls Fast One in Non-Jewish Rabbi Debate):  “you assume an article that was written in another newspaper and upon which your author draws for his piece reveals all the facts about her life. ”

Meaning, Ellenson may have known Buchdahl had converted in an Orthodox ceremony, but to concede this would mean that he agrees that it takes an Orthodox conversion to turn even the child of a Jewish father into a real Jew — as shown by the very poster child of patrilineal descent, the subject of our attention these past two days.

I still find the entire affair more than a little bizarre: why should someone who did convert in an Orthodox ceremony be sending out all the signals that they didn’t and that they’re proud they didn’t. Perhaps we’ll find out in the next chapter of this very strange story.

Yori Yanover

‘Caged Women’ – Never Happened

Sunday, June 9th, 2013

The Women of the Wall proved today that it’s not about the prayer, but about the politics.

While they were praying, they were also busy sending out tweets from the official Women of the Wall account (I guess they have some Kavana issues).

a horrible feeling. what a shanda to encage women at the kotel

what a frustrating, painful feeling. women in a cage at the Kotel.

When I heard, “women in a cage,” I rushed to check out the photos.

With a turn of phrase like that, I knew what I was expecting to see. Needless to say, I was disappointed, when it turned out to be nothing even close…

Let’s see what’s really going on.

Here they are at the main Kotel itself, being allowed to pray according to nearly any alternative lifestyle demands they have been promoting — with direct access to the wall at the plaza, so they can also touch the same section of the wall as everyone else can while they pray, and all the tourists can watch them.

WoWCage

Yet they are using SENSATIONALIST, exaggerated terminology, tweeting to the world that they were put in cages.

Put in cages!

At first I thought it was just them being whiny, but, you know what? It’s just straight out lying.

As you can see from their own photo, that it is not the case at all.

The women’s section has been divided by a standard police divider, so that part of the women’s section is designated for those women who want to pray in the traditional Jewish manner as they have been doing at the Kotel every day, and the other part dedicated to those who want to pray in their alternative fashion, wearing male accouterments, as they do once a month.

And since the Women of the Wall have been demanding to be allowed to pray at the main Kotel plaza in their non-traditional manner – and they were allowed to do so, this argument should pretty much be over.

But that obviously is not what the Women of the Wall want (that the argument should be over).

It’s not enough that they have forced their alternative method of prayer into the Kotel.

Here’s the truth of it, based on their own tweets.

They want to force their method of prayer onto to the other women at the Kotel too, including onto those who don’t want to pray that way – whether those women want it or not.

As part of their performance politics, the Women of the Wall are demanding that everyone else be subject to their methods of prayer, while they simultaneously prove that they won’t tolerate the way the other women (or men) at the Kotel want to hold their traditional prayers.

It’s a one way street for the Women of the Wall.

I am sure that within a month or two, they’ll get their way, too, and Orthodox (and non-Orthodox) women who want to pray undisturbed in the Jewish traditional manner will be made to feel very uncomfortable in their place of prayer.

And it won’t end there.

Because, as their tweets prove, this obviously isn’t about their wish to pray at the Kotel in a manner that deviates from tradition — after all, they’ve already won 95% of that (and I’m 100% convinced they’ll get permission to read from the Torah next month).

Next we’ll see petitions to the Supreme Court to completely remove the Mechitza, and allow egalitarian (mixed prayer) prayer groups.

How long until some IRAC-connected Reform rabbi demands to be allowed to play guitar on the Sabbath at the Kotel as he or she “traditionally” does in his or her Reform Temple?

This isn’t a battle about some women wanting to dress up as men like Yentyl and pray at the Kotel.

There’s no question that many of the backers of the Women of the Wall see the obliteration of Torah Judaism in public places in Israel as their ultimate goal.

The Kotel is just one of their battlefields, and the more SENSATIONAL they can make the battle sound, and the longer they can keep it going, the better it is for their camp.

JoeSettler

Western Wall Rabbi ‘Can Live’ with Non-Orthodox Kotel Site

Wednesday, April 10th, 2013

The rabbi of the Western Wall said he “can live with” a plan presented by Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky for a permanent prayer section at the Western Wall where women can organize minyans, even one for men and women together.

Sharansky briefed Rabbi of the Western Wall and the Holy Sites of Israel Shmuel Rabinowitz on the plan before he left Israel to present the plan to Jewish leaders in New York on Tuesday.

“This re-division of the plaza does not match my worldview, as I believe that there should be one site of prayer according to the place’s customs, but we can live with this solution,” Rabinowitz told the Israeli daily Yediot Acharonot Wednesday.

The proposal, reported here yesterday, would turn an archaeological site adjacent to the main Western Wall plaza into a permanent place of what proponents call “egalitarian” worship.

A women’s minyan now already has been allowed under a Supreme Court ruling that sets certain times, such as Rosh Chodesh, for the women, who can pray on the women’s side of the main section of the Western Wall whenever they want as individuals.

Under the proposal, the plaza would be expanded to encompass the additional prayer space, which is at the southern part of the Western Wall.

JTA

US Jewish Women’s Council Wants Israel to Certify Civil Marriages

Monday, April 8th, 2013

The National Council of Jewish Women called on the Jewish state to create a system of civil marriage and divorce in what was seen as a landmark move.

“The monopoly of authority given to Orthodox rabbinical courts in Israel regarding issues of personal status, particularly marriage, weakens rather than strengthens the state itself by causing disunity, disrespect for the law, and even hostility among Israelis and between Israel and Jews abroad,” according to a statement released Monday by the NCJW board of directors.

Rabbi David Saperstein, the director of the Reform movements Religious Action Center, said it was the first time a mainstream U.S. Jewish group joined non-Orthodox groups in making such a call.

“What’s important to me is that an organization beyond the religious streams is beginning to call for that,” he told JTA. “That’s an important step forward. I deeply commend the NCJW for doing so and ask all Jewish organizations to join the fight for freedom of marriage.”

The women’s group cited “democratic values and civil liberties” as two reasons Israel should grant its wishes. It also claimed that the lack of civil marriages forces “thousands of Israeli couples every year to leave Israel for a civil marriage abroad” and alienates “approximately 350,000 Israeli citizens from the former Soviet Union” who are not considered Jewish according to halacha.”

Civil marriages may or may not be suitable for Israel, which has a major problem coming up with a solution to heart-wrenching situations, such as that of divorced Kohenim. And even the predominantly orthodox Jewish Home party backed its non-secular Knesset Member Ayelet Shaked for coming out in support of civil marriages.

But the use of the terms “monopoly” and “civil liberties” is a populist tool to undermine the power of the Israeli Rabbinate, and the complicated issue of civil marriages is not addressed except as a matter of “democracy.”

It indeed could be said that orthodox rabbis have a monopoly in Israel. It also can be said that the American Medical Association has a monopoly on who can practice medicine and the Bar Association can decide who can practice law.

Would you call someone who has learned alternative medicine – and skips over six years of medical school – a doctor? If you change the definition of “doctor,” the answer is “yes.”

And what if someone wants to become a Reform rabbi?

Well, it seems that the evil “monopoly” also applies to the Reform movement.

Do you want to become a Reform rabbi? There are several small seminaries whose rabbis claim to be Reform, but if you want to be accepted by the Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR), you have to play by their rules.

One of  Judaism’s rules is “Who is a Jew?”,  an issue that has sharply divided Reform and Orthodox Jewry.

The Women’s Council is very concerned for Israelis from the Soviet Union who are not recognized as Jews.

But why?

Many of those “Jews” are not even Jews by the most liberal of standards. Under the government of Ariel Sharon, tens of thousands of people, and probably closer to 300,000, were allowed to make aliyah even though neither of their parents was Jewish. And it is questionable whether they want to be Jewish, unless it does not require any commitment to anything.

The question remains whether the National Council of Jewish Women’s declaration is a move for the sake of Israeli Jewry or for the sake of destroying centuries-old acceptance of developing Jewish in orthodox Judaism.

To the NCJW’s credit, its opinions, even if politically oriented, are no less important than anyone else’s and serve as part of the verbal warfare that has been part and parcel of Jewish thought, as evidenced in the Talmud.

Raising the issue could add pressure on the Israeli Rabbinate to address the issue of civil marriages, and that in itself may strengthen the orthodox “monopoly” in Israel.

Tzvi Ben-Gedalyahu

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/news/us-jewish-womens-council-wants-israel-to-certify-civil-marriages/2013/04/08/

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